On Tuesday 3rd May, Aterballetto gave their first performance at Sadler’s Wells and for the occasion they brought two pieces choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, the company’s director and main choreographer. I must admit I was really looking forward to seeing his work, as I had heard very good comments from one of his main dance pieces, Kasimir’s Colors, based on Malevich’s work.
The first ballet the company performed was Les Noces. One has to admire a choreographer who has the willingness to tackle such piece after Bronislava Nijinska’s rendering. Nijinska’s ballet has everything that can make a ballet or, for that reason a work of art, unique. It has got the music and decors, of course, but apart from that there is the whole spirit of the piece and its actual realisation through an outstanding and powerful style. There is a before and after Les Noces for anybody who is interested in ballet, such is the uniqueness of the work. And of course there is the daringness of it, the celebration of a wedding in such monumental and personal way. But, no matter how strong the message and the aesthetics are in Nijinska’s Les Noces, one cannot stop wondering at the choreographic invention with the unique fusion of folk and classical steps, the use of the space and the way the patterns emphasise this particular time in Soviet Art that gave Constructivism its raison d’etre, and of course the whole body movement that, though inspired by Nijinsky’s Sacre de Printemps, give this work a sense of identity that remains unequalled.
That is why, some credit must be given to any choreographer who freely chooses to re-choreograph this piece. However, once this is acknowledged, what remains is the new work in the light of the old one and, unfortunately for Bigonzetti, the stakes are simply too high for him. As I was watching the piece I kept wondering why he had chosen to do it. Movement wise, the dancers – as they would prove in the second piece- could have danced exactly the same steps to any other score. And if it comes to the concept of the piece, Bronislava said it better and more strongly. The choreography was aggressive in the kind of aesthetics one can easily associate to the works done by continental choreographers after Ek or Van Manen or even Forsythe. Everybody seems to be angry, though it is never clear why. As a note of transgression I suppose, Bigonzetti alters the structure of the piece and gives the music of the Blessing of the Bride to the man and vice versa. Now, why he does this, it remains a mystery. The music is stopped after each one of the sections and this adds nothing to the overall shape of the piece. The silences are used for exactly the same purpose, some more violent exchanges between men and women. Too déjà vu. Les Noces failed in its purpose, as it did not seem to make a clear statement on what it was all about. It just portrayed the usual female angst, the usual male aggression that takes us nowhere in terms of meaning or choreographic expression.
Cantata seemed a much more promising work. Set to Mediterranean live songs and, as the programme said, “using free and spontaneous movement” the ballet “bursts with the passion, colour and wild beauty of the Mediterranean South”. What they forgot to mention on the programme is that this actually happens during the last five minutes of the piece and that, during the other twenty minutes or so, one witnesses exactly the same movements and exactly the same darkness, violence and alienation between the genders as in the first piece. In fact, having been brought up in a Mediterranean country myself, I kept wondering if there was something I had missed during my time there.
The songs were beautiful and the singers really deserved the ovation they got at the end, but the interpretation of the songs was, once again, a repetition of the same forms already seen in Les Noces. Pity that these choreographers seem so unable to move out, just a little bit, of their own “so-called” styles and listen to the music they are working with. The never ending fights between men and women grew tiresome and at one point offensive, when one of the women starts a duet by running towards a man, taking his arm and starting beating herself against it. No, thank you very much, glorification of domestic violence is not precisely needed at the moment. The aesthetics of seeing men strangled by women’s legs also eludes me. This may have been very “avant garde” in the eighties or nineties, but by now it looks dated, sexist and pointless.
Luckily, the mood changed through what was supposed to be a funny conversation between two women. The conversation was actually in Spanish and it was about the body odour coming from the sweating bodies of the dancers. The comparison to rotten fish and more particularly to sardines made reference to the female genitals, a not highly original concept. But, fortunately for everybody, this interlude served the choreographer to change the mood and actually supply the audience with what had been promised in the programme. Finally, music and choreography seemed to match each other and the tiresome battle of the genders gave way to a much more enjoyable choreographic display.
Praise must be given to the dancers, who were excellent. Unfortunately, it took too long to get to this sort of Mediterranean Revelations. The audience loved it and the evening finished on a high, but for me it was too late.